French Friday: In French and English, Stories and Songs For Our Times

 

 

In this first part of the 21st century, immigration is politicians’ main focus, whether in the U.S. or across Europe. It is also on most citizens’ mind, regardless of their political opinions.

I’m not an expert on immigration reform, but it is clear that unlike the immigration of the 1990s, for example, global conflicts, armed or not, are now the #1 reason for people to flee their native land.

The social and economic roots of gang culture in Central America or the wars in Africa and the Middle East are far too complex to allow me the right to write anything about them.

Like you, I am only a witness of their consequences.

Our children are, too.

And since they witness other children in distress they ask questions and deserve, if not lengthy answers, at least some explanation.

Children can be sometimes self-centered, but they are also instinctively and immensely compassionate.

Over the last weeks, as I kept thinking of all the children, directly affected by immigration policies or disturbed by the current news reports, I wrote down a list of books that address the topics of exile and immigration and have been written just for kids. I only list them, linking to the authors and illustrators’ websites, whenever available.

 

 

The Journey Written and Illustrated by Francesca Sanna

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey (in English and Arabic) Written by Margriet Ruurs, Translated by Fallah Raheem and Ilustrated by Nizar Ali Badr

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation Written by Edwidge Anticat and Illustrated by Leslie Staub

Refugee by Alan Gratz

This is a novel for older readers. A must read that I discovered after Librariahn reviewed it on her blog.

Refugees and Migrants (Children in Our World) Written by Ceri Roberts and Illustrated by Hanane Kai

Global Conflict (Children in Our World) by Louise Spilsbury

This book is a good start for children who want to understand why people leave their native land for a foreign country. And it’s great for their parents too.

Strictly No Elephants Written by Lisa Mantchev and Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

This Picture Book is much lighter in tone and is the only book in this short selection that’s not addressing immigration per se. It is, however, a wonderful story that tackles differences. Differences often scare people and convince some to keep anyone looking, living, or speaking differently at bay. There is a happy ending to this charming and yet meaningful book designed for young children.

 

Yesterday night I decided to add a list of French songs to these books. I was really lucky to find an article that includes some of my favorite songs about immigrants, refugees, or simply foreigners.

The song Mercy, inspired by the birth of a baby girl aboard the humanitarian ship Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea in 2017, represented France this year at the Eurovision, a singing competition. Mercy’s mother had fled her native Nigeria to escape violence and prison. The child’s father was already jailed in Lybia. The song didn’t win the competition but gave a face to the 21st century’s human migration stories.

Here is a version with English subtitles and the real baby Mercy.

A year after her birth, she and her mother are two of thousands in one the largest refugee camps, based in Sicilia.

 

 

 

P.S. About the flowers that illustrate this post.

Last week my husband picked a bouquet of lilies at Trader Joe’s because it was our anniversary. The cashier asked him about his plans for the day. Learning that we would celebrate our anniversary, he announced that the flowers were on Trader Joe’s. We still don’t know if it’s a store policy or if the cashier took the initiative.

The lilies have bloomed a day at a time, releasing an exquisite fragrance that filters through the house. I love flowers of all kinds, but this bouquet has been particularly gorgeous. Each flower has opened, slowly and perfectly. Well chosen bouquet to start with, for sure 🙂

But I also believe that it carries a random act of kindness. The smallest are often the ones that matter most, particularly during hardship and heartbreaking moments. On my side, I just try to return each one.

I wish you all a beautiful weekend and also a safe and meaningful Fourth of July!

 

 

 

 

French Friday: A Woman. A Jacket. Their Future.

Now that I’ve been away from France for so many years, strange things happen to me. Once in a while, here in the U.S., I doubt of myself when I read words written in my native language.

Like when I spotted joi de vivre. Is joie spelled without an E at the end?

Or when I saw Tina Fey wearing a T-shirt that read ‘La Femme Est Le Future.’ Is futur spelled with an E at the end?

For all things French I ask my husband rather than Google Translator, like my son always suggests me to do. Years abroad have neither affected my husband’s grammar nor spelling skills. His oral and written French are as impeccable as they were when we lived in Paris. He even kept his French accent 🙂

“Of course joie is spelled with an E and futur is spelled without,” he confirmed while checking his email. He also excels at multi tasking.

French spelling has never been an issue for me either. But when French words are misspelled in otherwise extraordinary books or on clothes worn by celebrities, it’s natural to hesitate.

Since the T-shirt ‘La Femme Est Le Future’ is quite popular now, in case you’d like to purchase one I’ll suggest staying away from French Connection. Despite its name, French Connection is a UK-based retailer of fashion clothing which didn’t ace the French class.

I found some T-shirts with the proper spelling here. In case you wonder, ‘La Femme Est Le Futur’ means ‘Women Are the Future.’ Interesting to note that in French the singular still implies all women, while the plural is necessary in English.

As I go on with this post I realize that I have the opportunity to elaborate just a bit about the French noun and adjective ‘futur.’

The adjective futur and the adverbial locution à venir are often synonyms. For example: le futur gouvernement or le gouvernement à venir. Both mean: the future government. Or still dans les années futures or dans les années à venir. Both mean: in the future years, in the years to come.

On the other hand, the nouns le futur and l’avenir, which both mean the future, are not synonyms.

Avenir designates a period of time that people who are alive now will know, while futur hints to a more distant future that belongs to future generations.

For the former meaning, using futur instead of avenir borrows from the English language.

In his book Le Fou d’Elsa, French poet Louis Aragon wrote: “L’avenir de l’homme est la femme” or

Women are men’s future.

That Aragon chose l’avenir instead of le futur shows his optimism regarding the upcoming important role of women in the world.

I want to be as positive as the poet, so I definitely prefer the T-shirt that proclaims ‘l’avenir est féminin’ (the future is female) to ‘la femme est le futur.’

However, I don’t really plan to buy any of these T-shirts.

Many moons ago I owned clothes printed with American words that either I didn’t understand or proved to make no sense.

UCLA, for example, didn’t ring a bell when I wore the university sweatshirt through my last year of high school, and I had no clue that the jacket I wore during my first winter in California advertised a fake New York sport team.

 

 

The UCLA sweatshirt ended its life somewhere in France, but the jacket is stored in a bin, here in the U.S., since it carries many of my early immigration memories.

I’ve always believed the man who told me cheerfully that this Brooklyn-based team my jacket promoted didn’t exist. I’m from Brooklyn, he told me. By the way I also always believed he spoke of a baseball team, until I noticed the sticks and puck when I took the picture for this blog post:)

It’s not like my future depends on it, but my avenir is not as long as it was when I wore this jacket, twenty-seven years ago.

So hockey fans, it’s your turn…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRENCH FRIDAY: Trop Chou!

A few weeks ago I had coffee with three friends. One of them came with her 100% adorable and smart four-year-old son. Knowing I was from France he announced that he was his grandma’s chouchou. I asked him how his brother felt not being his grandma’s favorite.

“I’m not her favorite!” he exclaimed. “She loves my brother too!”

I was relieved that it was the case. “Then,” I said. “You are your grandma’s chou.”

“Okay,” he said.

Now that I had made him half of a chou, I had to elaborate. In this context, chou is sweetie in English.

Being the chouchou, however, is not really a compliment. At school, the chouchou is the teacher’s pet. At home, it’s the darling, the child who’s preferred to any other.

“Anyway,” I told the little boy. “You are an adorable bout de chou.”

“A bout de chou,” he repeated in perfect French. “What is it, already?”

“A bout de chou is a child.”

“So I am a chou and a bout de chou?”

“Exactly.”

A few days later, I saw one of my three friends. She ran over me, announcing that she had recently explained to a French teacher the difference between a chou and a chouchou.

“But,” she said. “The teacher insisted that a chou is a cabbage. Is that true?” asked my friend, clearly surprised that I would have let the boy’s grandma call him a cabbage.

“Well,” I started, “not only. It’s complicated.”

“French is really a weird language,” she concluded.

“You can say that,” I admitted.

If only she knew the many ways a word as simple as chou is used in French! I thought. Ça me prend le chou! It drives me crazy.

 

So the word du jour is CHOU!

 

Yes, a chou is a cabbage but also a puff pastry. La pâte à chou (x) is the pastry dough used to make profiteroles. Chou can also mean “head.”

Just a few of the many expressions used with the word CHOU :

Être bête comme chou: To be dumm as a cabbage. Describes someone who’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

C’est bête comme chou: It’s dumm as a cabbage. Describes an easy, simple task.

Avoir des oreilles en feuille de chou: To have ears shaped as a cabbage’s leaves. To have big ears.

Chouchou: the darling, the teacher’s pet.

Être dans les choux: To be in the cabbages. To be in a bad situation.

Être un chou: To be a puff pastry. To be adorable, kind.

Faire chou blanc: To do white cabbage. To fail, to miss, to not be successful, also used when looking for a specific thing and not finding it.

Rentrer dans le chou: To enter the cabbage. Describes a frontal attack, both literally and figuratively.

Un bout de chou: A piece of cabbage. A small kid.

Une feuille de chou: A cabbage’s leaf. A poor-quality newspaper.

If you want to hear the differents expressions in French:

 

But the selection of books below is not a feuille de chou. I wrote it to honor every dad, daddy, pop, papa, baba…

Since each one is different these books are different too. So if you are still looking for a small gift to celebrate a father or even a grandfather in your life, I hope you’ll find a book that will fit the day.

Hammers and Nails written by Josh Bledsoe and illustrated by Jessica Warrick

When a little girl and her father must unexpectedly spend the day together things get complicated. But, when they decide to step outside their comfort zones, well, things get simpler and really cool.

Now a classic with a twist and a modern story:

I Love Dad With the Very Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by the one and only Eric Carle

Dad By My Side written and illustrated by Soosh who posted series of images of a larger-than-life father and his adorable daughter on Instagram. Over 2 million views made her an instant sensation.

Made for Me written by Zack Bush and illustrated by Gregorio de Lauretis

The refrain, “You are the one made just for me” reinforces the unique ties between a father and his child, from the second he was born to future moments.

Many grandfathers take care of their grandkids, whether during weekends or vacations or on a daily basis, so they should be celebrated too. Three of my favorites Picture Books:

Being Frank written by Donna W. Earnhardt and illustrated by Andrea Castellani

When Frank is too frank with his friends, his grandfather helps him learn that the truth is best when served with diplomacy. Laugh-out-loud humor depicts a grandpa as a role model for tact.

How to Babysit a Grandpa written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish

From the popular Series How To…

This is a step-by-step book on how to babysit grandpa. From what to eat to what to do on a walk or still how to entertain gandpa, this is funny and heartwarming.

Grandfather’s Wrinkles by Kathryn England and Richard McFarland

There are stories behind wrinkles. Grandpa certainly knows how to tell them. This is sweet and funny and a really lovely book to share between a grandfather and his grandkid.

The Night Before Father’s Day written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Amy Wummer

Part of the Series The Night Before…

It’s the night before Father’s Day, and Mom and the kids plan a surprise for Dad. When he goes for a bike ride, everyone gets to work. Dad wakes up the next day to find his garage well organized and his car squeeky-clean. Dad celebrates by taking everyone for a ride.

Pizza Day written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai

A young boy and his dad assemble the ingredients to make their own pizza. There is even the recipe!

I love this one because my husband and my son love to cook together. It’s quite funny since my son started first to bake with me when my husband was too busy with his career to ever cook. Then, with more time my husband became quite a chef. Now, when our son is home the two of them enjoy preparing dinner. Totally fine with me 🙂

Too Much Glue written by Jason Lefebvre and illustrated by Zac Retz

Matty loves glue. Dad loves glue almost as much as Matty. At home, they make tons of things with glue. But in school, Matty goes overboard, creating a mess, but with unconditional love, Dad declares Matty project a masterpiece.

That Cat Can’t Stay written by Thad Krasnesky and illustrated by David Parkins

When Mom brings home a stray cat one day, Dad decides against. Dad doesn’t want a cat, and certainly not two or three or four. When stray cat number five arrives, Dad, however, takes a surprising stand.

Holly Bloom’s Garden written by Sarah Ashman and Nancy Parent and illustrated by Lori Mitchell

It’s not easy to be a gardener when everyone in your family has a green thumb. But Holly’s artistic dad is smart and keeps telling up that she just needs to find the right tools. And sure enough Holly finds her own way to create flowers in her father’s studio.

 

These books are really trop chou! These books are really too cute!

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO EACH FATHER READING THIS POST!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Everything You Wanted to Know About French Kisses. Yes, Even That One.

A few days ago I finished a novel by Margaret Peterson Haddix, who was one of my children’s favorite authors. They loved her Series The Shadow Children. Her most recent book is a standalone novel for teens. The Summer of Broken Things is set in Madrid, and although there is much more to the story than the foreign Spanish setting, Madrid plays a big role. I smiled when I read what surprises the two American girls as they wander through their summer neighborhood. They notice that an American third-floor is not a European third-floor, that most American favorite food is not easy to find. And they notice couples kissing in the street.

Like I noticed that American couples didn’t kiss in the street. Or when they did, it was not how French couples kissed in the streets.

I returned my book to the library and went to yoga. As I entered the studio I bumped into a friend, leaving one of those heated classes that reminds me of a sauna.

“I don’t hug you,” my friend said. “I’m so-o-o sweaty. By the way, how do you say, “hug” in French?”

“Uh,” I started. “There is not really a word.”

“Really? How come?”

I tried to come up with something. But I was quickly rattling on. So I shrugged apologetically.

Then, there was Joey‘s comment on my last post. “Yes, we’re huggers,” she wrote about Americans. “We are. Kisses are for dear friends. Handshakes are for strangers. Everyone else is a hug.”

Okay, I thought as I unrolled my mat. I guess I’m not done with the topic of hugs and kisses.

So today I’ll try to give you the basics about these infamous French kisses. In case you’re planning a trip, it can be helpful. As you know the most simple, ordinary gestures symbolize a culture and sometimes result in involuntary mistakes from the newcomer. Believe me, I know. Mistakes, anyway, remain the best way to learn and embrace our differences. Worst case scenario you’ll make people smile. Been there, done that 🙂

 

 

 

How do French people greet each other?

They shake hands or kiss on both cheeks.

When do you shake?

It’s quite obvious that you never kiss in professional and business related situations. French handshakes are then the norm. They must be firm and eyes are supposed to meet too, whether you’re a man or a woman.

When do you kiss?

Girls and women always kiss when they meet their friends or friends of friends, whether these friends are girls or boys, women or men. Back in France, I kissed people I had never met, only because friends introduced them to me. However, older men and women will more often be greeted with a handshake. You still follow me? 🙂

Faire la bise describes this action, literally to do the kiss.

On se fait la bise means we’re going to kiss each other (on the cheeks).

This is NOT a kiss between lovers. La bise is a quick, light kiss where lips don’t linger on the cheek. In fact, lips don’t have to touch the cheek, even though the cheeks meet. What MUST be there, though, is the sound that resembles this: The song Big Bisous which is from the mid 70s is interesting for the sound of the kisses too.

This is why la bise is also called un smack.

Careful: a French smack is NOT an American smack.

No French is going to slap you in the face if he/she says: Allez, on se fait la bise (Come on, let’s kiss).

A very common equivalent to la bise is le bisou. Le bisou is one of the first words taught to babies in fact. And all little French kids know how to blow a kiss at a very young age. My French-born daughter delighted Californian passersby with her bisous. Un bisou can be petit or gros, small or big.

A phone call between friends or relatives will often end with, “Bisous.”

How many kisses?

There is no rule, since the number varies per region. Most often it’s one kiss on each cheek, sometimes two, and sometimes more. In my natal Normandy people tend to favor two alternative kisses on each cheek. Since there is also no rule about which cheek to kiss first, there are occasional odd situations where people hesitate (right or left cheek?) and accidently brush their lips too close to the mouth. So-o-o embarrassing.

Above, I mentioned that older people are greeted with a handshake. However, when family members introduce their own friends, even when they are older, it’s expected to kiss them.

I will always remember my born-American children’s reluctance to meet their grandparents’ friends but also neighbors and merely acquaintances when they grew up. They knew they would be kissed, something that they quickly found strange and uncomfortable.

For full disclosure, I feel the same way now. Some French cultural aspects are not as natural as they were when I lived there. Emigrating create some inevitable distance. It’s not bad, just different.

And yes, the first American hug I ever received left me as embarrassed as my kids with their first French kisses. It felt so odd to feel another body pressed against my chest and belly.

Do men kiss in France?

When they know each other well and see each other regularly, or are young, men will kiss, even though they often shake hands. Sometimes they kiss while shaking hands.

Do the French hug?

Kind of. Not really. No.

In my early months and even years in the U.S., I was often surprised, a little embarrassed, but also moved when a total stranger hugged someone in obvious pain or despair. Like it was the most normal thing to offer another human who needed comfort. Although I’m unable to be so spontaneous, I think it’s kind and very American.

No big bear hug in France, even during hard times. People will vaguely squeeze your shoulder, but never hold you against their body. Sometimes, men who are good friends, regardless of age, will pat each other’s shoulder in a quick move that has nothing in common with an American hug, since there is no other body part in contact besides the hand on the shoulder. Parents and lovers are the only people who provide something close to a hug to their kids or significant other. But le câlin is the American cuddle, not really a hug.

There are always exceptions in France, as this video clip illustrates. The French songwriter and singer Renaud sings J’ai embrassé un flic (I Kissed a Cop). The clip shows the singer with a sign that reads Câlins Gratuits or free hugs. Notice the “hugs.” Some are really close to an American hug. Again, this is a song. Most French people don’t hug as spontaneously and with the same strength as American people.

The absence of hug in France seems odd when one considers how French people kiss so much in public. Including the infamous French kiss.

You were probably still reading to finally know how the French call the French kiss.

Le baiser français? Non.

Only Americans say French fries, French doors, French manucure, or still French drain. Nobody say French kiss in France either. We kiss, that’s all.

In order to avoid major embarrassement:

Un baiser is a kiss in French.

But baiser does NOT mean to kiss. Baiser is slang to say making love. The F word is the exact American translation. So careful here 🙂

This song from one of my favorite French contemporary songwriters and singers is about this kind of baiser. It is actually a beautiful song, with gorgeous lyrics.

Embrasser is the only verb that means to kiss.

An American embrace is une étreinte, which is rarely used alone. The kind of étreinte will be described for clarification purposes. For example: une étreinte amoureuse, between lovers.

To embrace is étreindre. For lovers the best verb is enlacer.

Embrasser can, however, also be used for ideas or causes that are embraced.

Conclusion:

If you aren’t a hugger, France is a great place for you.

As long as you don’t mind learning a few rules about these French kisses, kissing lots of people, and being kissed in return.

When current and former French presidents demonstrate the art of the French greeting kiss.

Embed from Getty Images

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

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